Me and My Garden Journals

  • Post published:01/17/2013
  • Post comments:9 Comments


Garden journals are as individual as every garden. Some are elaborate and some, like mine, are usually more sketchy. Still, I have tried to keep a journal noting weather, and plants planted. There are many reasons to keep a garden journal and I have tried to keep some kind of record of each garden year. My system has varied over time.  In our early years here on the hill I kept little 3 x 6 inch date books with one page per day.  I’d note temperatures, rain or sun, and planting activities. For example the entry for Monday, May 19, 1986 was hot and breezy. I planted rhubarb plants, beets, red kuri squash, green and wax beans, and slept with only a single sheet.  Notable heat for May!  I see that I made no notes for the next five days except RAIN.  I wonder how many of those seeds rotted and had to be replanted.  No note of that.

Those little date books worked pretty well as a bare bones record. But they were not beautiful.

Then someone gave me a handsome illustrated 3Year Garden Journal which provided room for daily entries on weather and planting, maps of the garden, lists of new plants. It was arranged so the record for one week in one year was placed next to the same week for the other two years, making it easy to compare weather, tasks and problems over time. I kept up this journal with fair regularity. When looking at the completed entries for all three years I am fascinated by the differences each year.

I have seen other people’s garden journals, some of which have been very impressive. I think I can put the most notable journals in one of two categories.  One is the very precise and complete scientific sort of journal with lots of details about many plants in the garden, possibly including notes on personal experiments.

The other kind of journal is more artistic, with beautiful sketches of plants, planting schemes and maps of the garden. I have been inspired by both of these types of garden journals, but I am not up to either one.

One journal is a child’s notebook that I bought in China with a picture of Chang e, the moon goddess, on the cover. It has cheap lined pages. There is nothing about it that makes me feel I have anything to live up in my record-keeping which I know is always sketchy.

Instead of beautiful colored drawings, I’ve taped in catalog photos of plants I’ve ordered. This gives me visual information so I can at least remember the effect I was hoping for. And it gives me cultural information about the plant. I do note the planting times. I’ve also allowed myself room to note the progress of that plant over time.

Sometimes the entries peter out because the plant is successful, like the Meidiland landscape roses which were planted in 1991, and continue today, although not as lushly in Heath as the catalog photos promised.  Others are brief. Climbing hydrangea, Hydrangea petiolaris, from White Flower Farm, $15.95, planted in cellar hole, 1991. !992 Dead.   In my own defense, and possibly defense of the White Flower Farm, I do have to remember that 1991 was only one year after the barn burned down, creating the cellar hole, and I was just beginning to create the soil there. I also have to say I am grateful for all the plant order invoices that I often, not always, stick in the  journal. More info.

Oddly enough, there are no records for 1994 at all, an amazingly busy year in the garden because that is the year Daughter Kate was married with the roses and broccoli bearing witness.  However, in this case the memory of all the work her siblings did on her behalf in the garden, the rain all week before the wedding, the romantic mist that shrouded the hill that morning and the brilliant sun that burst through as bride and groom.

It took the Commonweeder blog to turn me into a good (well, better) record keeper. The blog itself is a photographic record of the garden, and doings in Heath and around the area, including the interviews and stories I’ve done for my Between the Rows garden column in  the Recorder. In addition, because it is easier to browse through paper pages to locate an event or plant name when I began the Commonweeder I also began keeping much better records in a blank book that became my journal.

I want to  give a shout-out to Carol of May Dreams Gardens who instituted Garden Bloggers Bloom Day which has prompted me, and many other gardeners, to post photos of everything blooming in the garden on the 15th of every month. You can see mine by writing Bloom Day in the Search box at the top of the page. These digital garden journals are a terrific record of changes in  the garden, and the vagaries of the weather.

Have your kept garden journals?  What tips do you have?

This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. Lisa at Greenbow

    Your journals look a lot like mine. I am sketchy at keeping records but I keep at it. I too think that Carol’s 15th GBBD has helped me focus at least once per month. While the rest of the time you might find anything in my journals from catalog/magazine cut outs, sketchs and mostly scribbling about what happens or what I wish would happen. We just carry on…

  2. Pat

    Lisa – I do carry on, trying not to get too discouraged by the record of all the plants I’ve killed. Of course, I have gotten rid of some on purpose. No more plume poppy for me.

  3. Flaneur

    If I were a gardener, I wonder if I’d keep a journal. That you, Pat, and many of your readers do keep journals and records is impressive, makes a great deal of sense, and is more than slightly intimidating. My idea: get Henry to develop a gardener’s journal app for smart phones that would allow one to synchronize pictures and notes (and weather conditions from the NOAA/NWS apps). It could also coordinate with whatever you gardeners have in terms of a Mayo-Clinic-for-plants so that with the push of a button you could send a photo of a droopy plant to a specialist who would immediately diagnose the problem: “Hot day. Needs water!” I’m already envisioning such commercial success that I see you reclining on a chaise longue dictating orders by pointing your parasol this way and that! Seriously, this was a fascinating post and reminded me of those Medieval apothecary and physics gardens so conscientiously documented by monasteries. Clearly the literary roots of gardening stretch out for millennia.

  4. Jason

    Your journals are very impressive. I’ve always meant to do journals, but never got organized to do it. The blog is kind of a substitute, but you don’t put in stuff systematically like bloom dates, etc.

  5. Pat

    Flaneur – You always astound.
    Jason – Impressive is probably not quite the word, and certainly not systematic. But helpful.

  6. easygardener

    I tried to keep a journal but was not very successful. Now I carry a small notebook in which I note seeds sown, plants planted or removed and general things to do – also plants I have bought.
    On the computer I have 2 spreadsheets, one listing plants in each garden border and the other keeping track of vegetables.
    However, while I know where all my plants are it does not make me any less lazy in doing some of the jobs to maintain them 🙂

  7. Pat

    Easy gardener – Spreadsheets! Impressive. Alas, recording and doing are two very different things. We can’t do everything!

  8. I love the idea of keeping garden journals but like so many people, I never did it quite thoroughly enough. Now, as a bare minimum, I write down what I know I will forget and kick myself for not having recorded. For the rest, I just resign myself to a lot of Oops and Oh wells.

  9. Pat

    Sarah – You can see that some of my entries are very brief, but I am a lot better than I was before I had the blog.

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